Six Things Many PR Firms Won’t Tell You


When they’re trying to get your business, many PR companies will not tell you that:

1)      Your company may be better off spending a very limited budget on another form of communications (such as direct marketing or online advertising) instead of hiring you. PR is not always the best solution to meet communications needs.

2)      They don’t actually have media contacts in your area.  Media contacts are ephemeral these days, with the high rate of layoffs in the journalism world. Chances are high that half the journalists a PR person has worked with in the recent past are no longer with the same media outlet, and/or may not be covering the same area. Agencies use media databases to find the right journalists to target, anyway, and personal contacts among journalists are overrated. Either you have something worthy of being covered (and it doesn’t matter if you have contacts because the media will respond whether they know you or not), or you don’t (and contacts are unlikely to help because the media won’t cover something with no news value whether they know you or not).

3)      What you want them to do is really not what you need from them. Clients should look to PR companies who will consult with them and develop strategies, rather than just do as they’re told. After all, aren’t you paying for expertise?

4)      Your expectations and goals for PR are too high. Of course you think your company and products are media- and buzz-worthy, but it’s very hard for you to be objective. It’s not at all unusual to hear a prospective client say, “We want to be in the Wall Street Journal [or on the ‘Today’ Show, or to create a record-breaking buzz about our product on Facebook]. It’s certainly possible even for startups and small companies to reach that kind of goal, but it’s not probable. Rather than managing your expectations from the outset, some PR firms will keep quiet and not tell you that kind of exposure may be very unlikely for your company. They figure they’ll educate you after you’ve signed the contract.

5)      You don’t have enough budget to “move the needle.” In every situation, there’s a minimum amount of budget that’s necessary to get good PR results. Rather than telling you that you’re budget is inadequate, some PR companies will take whatever you can pay for as long as you’ll pay it, until you realize that you’re not getting the results you need. This isn’t a smart way to do business, because the client will assume that it’s the agency’s inadequacy that’s to blame, and not their own lack of resources.

6)      Your company has to spend time and effort working with the PR firm to make a success of PR. For starters, the agency PR team has to be briefed thoroughly on a regular basis.  It isn’t possible for an agency to do great PR for your company if your executives won’t make themselves available for interviews, or don’t get back to the agency in a timely way to answer media questions.

Lucy Siegel

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16 Responses to “Six Things Many PR Firms Won’t Tell You”

  1. Pat Wood Says:

    Great, and very truthful, analysis as always. Too bad more agency execs aren’t like you. And, too bad the agencies that so often get the business are the ones you describe.

  2. Henry A. de La Garza Says:

    Local independent firms with 3-5 employees and with the owner on site are going to be more honest and reputable public relations professionals. The owner is there to stand behind the firm’s people and services, to provide the highest level of accountability, and to shoot straight with clients. My firm and I pride ourselves in seeking friendships as well as long term relationships with clients. We’ve been in business going on 30 years and have a very strong reputation. 99.9% of our clients come to us as referrals.

  3. Bridge Global Strategies Says:

    Pat, thanks for your commentt – you have to figure that people (and companies) get what they deserve in the end! (Sometimes it just takes too long before that happens.)

    Henry, very well said! I totally agree with you.

  4. brian Says:

    I have long tried to explain the age-old question “who are your contacts” when being interview for a PR position by an HR staffer. I try to reason that the ratio of contacters to top contacts is very high – meaning there are more of us then them and that databases make contact building a commodity. I usually try to reason I have been friends with, lived with, dated top journos and that only gets you a passing nod if you are not newsworthy.

  5. Bridge Global Strategies Says:

    Brian, the best that contacts will do is hear you out, so that you’ve broken through to a media outlet. But you can accomplish the same thing with a dynamite pitch.

  6. Linda Forrest (@lindaforrest) Says:

    The fact that most PR companies will not be forthright about these issues is exactly why our industry has a bad reputation. I can honestly say that our company does and will tell our prospects and customers every single one of these things.

    We do fall into that category that Henry mentioned and as with his experience, the majority of our clients are repeat business and a great source of referrals for us.

    Brian makes a great point about newsworthiness, which you back up. Our track record shows that we get the story coverage where it deserves to be covered, regardless of whether we have an existing relationship with the gatekeepers.

    We’ve blogged on these topics at length at http://www.francis-moran.com and would welcome your readers’ feedback there.

  7. Bridge Global Strategies Says:

    Linda, I agree with you about the bad reputation for the industry that results when agencies aren’t forthright.

    Companies that don’t turn down business, whether they are well-suited for it or not, are a big problem, also. I just turned someone down this morning and referred him to a colleague. The best PR companies I know do the same.

  8. 6 things PR firms won't tell you | PRbuilder.com Says:

    […] which specializes in PR for startups and foreign companies in the U.S. market. She blogs at Bridgebuzz, where a version of this article originally […]

  9. Paola Tich Says:

    I’ve worked both sides of the fence and this raises good points. Though agencies I have worked for and hired in the UK would never promise to secure a front page in the WSJ or FT – but advise on how to get there and share the previous success they’ve had.

    Brian is spot on. Contacts are not the currency they once were. I am former journo and still have friends in the biz – but there has to be a story to get coverage.

    The big piece missing for me is the level of seniority you will have working on your account. Larger PR firms will wow you with their senior execs at the pitch and negotiations, but chances are you will have someone with 1-3 years experience handling the bulk of the work on the account. Then they wonder why they don’t get access to the CEO.

  10. SmallBizPRXpert (@SmallBizPRXpert) Says:

    Love this! I agree with all of your comments. How refreshing.

    I say exactly the same thing when teaching small businesses about PR. I want to arm them with this kind of information (along with exactly what PR is and how it works) so they don’t get ripped off. And, sadly, there are people in the industry who don’t know what they’re doing but are great sales people. They help make Linda’s point about a few giving the whole lot of us a bad name.

    This one thing will always be true no matter how the industry changes – it’s all about your story!

    @SmallBizPRXpert
    http://cascadeeffect.blogspot.com

  11. Angelo Coppola (@angelo2711) Says:

    Spot on.

  12. Bridge Global Strategies Says:

    Paola makes an important point about the “bait and switch” game that goes on with large PR companies. The senior staff show up to sell to the client, the client hires the firm and only junior staff are anywhere in sight once the contract is signed. There are big advantages of boutique PR firms where the (generally quite experienced) owners actually work with the team and consult with clients on strategies. Many of us who started boutique firms did so not only to be our own bosses (which is nice, too) but to have a chance to actually work hands on with our clients. At large firms the most experienced staff spend most of their time either managing others in the firm or going to meetings with the financial people on budget projections! At small firms, the owners have a chance to work with clients to help them develop their stories, which, as SmallBizPRXpert points out, is crucial.

  13. 6 Things That Many Israeli PR Firms Won Says:

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  15. Uwe Schmidt Says:

    Hi Guys,

    we talk about these points with our prospect clients. Honest talks during the briefing period help a lot to avoid frustration for both parties the client and the agency after the contract is signed. And it helps to build up long-term relationships. We have many clients for more than 10 years as we do not look for quick money. This philosophy helps also during weak economy periods. Uwe Schmidt, CEO & Co-Owner of Industrie-Contact AG (IC AG) Public Relations in Hamburg, Germany, http://www.ic-gruppe.com

    • Bridge Global Strategies Says:

      Hi, Uwe,
      I have the same philosophy you do. If you don’t manage expectations and aren’t forthright in the dating stage, then the relationship won’t last long. Like you, we also have clients that we have had for more than 10 years!

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